Explore how Heaney writes about suffering in 'Bye-Child' and in one other poem of your choice.

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Explore how Heaney writes about suffering in ‘Bye-Child’ and in one other poem of your choice.

In both ‘Bye-Child’ and ‘Limbo’, Heaney concentrates mostly on pain and suffering of individuals who have been born into a world where they are not allowed to be seen or acknowledged. In both cases, these individuals are innocent children, who, unfortunately due to the rigid and uncompromising Catholic community, are forced into a life of deprivation and suffering.

     "Bye-Child" is an amazing encapsulation of the thoughts and feelings that Seamus Heaney has towards mistreated and abused children, and the poem, though inspired by a specific case of abandonment of a child, could be seen as Heaney's attempt to reach out to any child who has had bad experiences in their lives. Heaney exposes the pain and neglect suffered by those who are unwanted by entering their lives and situations and giving them a voice.  


 In ‘Bye-Child’, the reader is first drawn to a paragraph of information. Pain and suffering is apparent right from the beginning, as Heaney mentions words such as ‘confined’ and ‘incapable’. This prepares the reader for the fact that the child is mistreated. Heaney shows his empathy immediately towards the child, and it is clear that he feels strongly towards this inhuman act. We are then reminded of the neglect of the child with ‘a yolk of light’ and ‘the lamp glowed’. Despite these being images of birth and nature at its best, which would normally bring a sense of warmth and comfort, we see that it is coming from ‘their back window’, which instantly reminds us that the young person is not a member of the family, and that his pain and suffering is one that he shares with no one but himself. The light is a significant feature in the poem as the boy strives to go into the light but is kept in the dark constantly. His torment is plain as he ‘put his eye to a chink’. This ultimately shows his desperation for light and human interaction with the open world, and emphasises the neglect and maltreatment he has suffered at the hands of the people who should care for him the most.

 The first line of the second stanza is poignant in Heaney’s description of the child as ‘little henhouse boy’. This is an ultimate reminder of how innocent and frail the young boy is and how much he needs to be loved and cared for, his ‘sharp-faced’ appearance a constant prompt of his deprivation of care and nourishment. Heaney also mentions that the child is ‘glimpsed like a rodent’. The use of the word ‘rodent’ and ‘my’ here highlights the fact that the boy is constantly on the poets mind, and gives the impression that he is diseased and worthless. This could also be an indication of the imprint he has also left on his mother’s mind, he is pestering her and she finds it hard to forget about him no matter how hard she tries.

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In the third stanza, we are presented with a description of the young boy. Heaney describes his as ‘moon man’, which ultimately is a true symbol of his neglect, as he has no other identity. This definitively emphasises the loneliness suffered by the child. The ‘moon’ is also a reminder of the light and darkness battling against each other. Heaney also portrays the boy as ‘kennelled’ and ‘faithful’, which are seen as animal-like descriptions and just shows the lack of knowledge and life experiences the boy has suffered as a result of his making. The ‘kennelled’ also ...

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